Sunday, August 31, 2008

The White Noise Ensemble

Longevity of distinctive sound produces a curious dichotomy in critical opinion. For a darling band, album one is just the start of it, album two separates the real deal from the other sophomores, and albums three through infinity just add to the legend. But it's albums three through infinity where it becomes mirky and contradictory: depending on the ears, it's either progress or stagnation. How exactly does that divide work?

At the root of this is the coverage of two new albums, "Worried Well" by 31 Knots and "You & Me" by The Walkmen. First, the part I'm on board with; nearly everything I've read agrees that these albums, numbers seven and four for each respective band, firmly fit into a signature sound. As Slant Magazine says, this tautological statement remains intact. Readily recognizable and easily fitting into the discography. That's not to say surprises and/or growth can't exist (the worms find the top of the can), but it's safe to say that you get about what you came for.

Now the perplexing; why are the Walkmen getting heaps of love and 31 Knots some serious second-guessing? First listen for both, I was pleased. More specifically, I thought the Walkmen album did the same thing it had done for the previous four albums (which I count as good), and 31 Knots continued to blow my mind. I mean, that band's been golden since the first release. So I wasn't that surprised to see Walkmen praise, but the assault that came at "Worried Well" from more than just a few prominent sources was definitely cause for consternation.

A look back at previous releases and their reception is necessary, and I think I'm starting to get it, as unpopular as it sounds. It's not necessarily each individual release's quality, but the ebb and flow of popular opinion to the general straight line that a consistent band draws through history. There's bumps, sure, and I'd never try to deny that some songs and albums are inevitably better in a distinguished discography, but generally speaking, the Walkmen and 31 Knots have been as strong a unit now as they ever were. So why does "You & Me" get the almost universal green light, while "A Hundred Miles Off" somehow smacks of staleness? With 31 Knots, the randomness and maybe general ignorance is even more pronounced; "Worried Well" gets trashed for overproduction, but the gap between 51-40 or Fight! releases and Polyvinyl releases for the band is all but ignored. Sequencing across albums provides a continuity of idea and sound that shows a sharing of strength and weakness, in different proportions for sure, but nonetheless there.

What I think it all comes down to is that no one wants to say "more of the same, and that's great." There's no such thing as even keel. The boat rocks, and it either crests the wave or it turtles. The onward march of progress demands quantifiable differences. But when no one's certain as to what those gains or losses are, it becomes arbitrary as to the value assigned. It's one confusing divide in the critical voice, and maybe just another reason why the only subjectivity that matters is your own.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"The name of the band is Failures."

Sean said it best: "They call themselves Failures when any one of their many projects is more than enough to retire on and look back on." Charles Bronson, Orchid, Ampere, Das Oath, Cut the Shit, Cancer Kids...and that's just the short list. Could we go on? Sure, but what's the point? You know the deal. Failures has a pedigree.

So it's not hard to figure out that the music rips. Loud, brash, and much more than just the sum of its parts. What is more intriguing, though, is what the sound means, where the aesthetic comes from, and what it means for the future of hardcore punk. Mark McCoy and Will Killingsworth are salty pillars of the community; the two of them responsible for Youth Attack! and Clean Plate, respectively, more or less the standard-bearers for the bright bleak future. It's a wedding of strict concern for punk ethics but more importantly punk art, and I think it all comes out in the music.

And the performance. The recorded material, complete with all its well-designed trappings, are more than enough, but this ain't no studio project; these motherfuckers mess shit up for real. At the live show, the electricity actually boils over. The noise is actually assaulting; none of that full wall overload nonsense, but razor sharp, brutally nihilistic jabs at your very core. If the buzzsaw riffage doesn't cut you up entirely, Mark can take care of that. He's the consummate frontman, all arms and legs attached to a flailing torso and equipped by an angry but brilliant head. More than anything, though, it's his snarl and grimace that never leave his face that really leaves the impression. It's the face of a generation, and it's all his movement.

All of this came out in the Cake Shop show today, and more. No pictures, because a camera can't survive that. Not when beer bottles are flying, Mark is assaulting the crowd, tearing at lights, and even running over Andrew. Even on stage, it's a kill or be killed game; protect yourself, even if it's from your own frontman. More than failure, it's about survival.

Friday, August 22, 2008

No Bunny? No Problem.

No Bunny's "Love Visions" is an album you're going to say up front that you don't like and that you don't want to hear. But you're going to listen to it, and then you're going to listen to it again, and...well, it'll be a routine before long. I mean, look at this dude; clearly knows how to party, and that's all I need.

Further evidence of partying. Seriously, what more do you need? Image source says that costumed back-up band support is provided here by the Wax Museums, who sing songs about real problematic teen shit like getting locked in the mall.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Eisenhower is the father of the interstate highway system...

Heavy rotation; Best Friends Forever sings about touring and love, but they're really talking about any ol' memory.

Would you think it was stupid of me
to suggest that we don't get any sleep?
Even though we're getting up at 6 A.M.
to drive all the way to Michigan?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"This is like a last stand for webcasting."

Been down this road before, once hopeful, once despairing, and it looks like the third time's the charm, this time towards an elegy. If you haven't seen already, The Washington Post reported that Pandora will most likely be shutting down thanks to the draconian royalties of SoundExchange. It's a pretty dark day for digital music and radio and any internet-hopefuls who were looking forward to Music 2.0. Internet music start-ups can be rounded up by the barrel. They run the gamut from practical but boring to revolutionary and thus illegal. The thing about Pandora, though, is how effective it was: the Music Genome Project actually worked. The jaded masses will agree.

Next up on the industry's sado-masochistic plate? Muxtape. The recording industry's left it's black dot on Muxtape currently; visiting the site returns an image of an suitably unplayed cassette and the last words of "Muxtape will be unavailable for a brief period while we sort out a problem with the RIAA." Great. Whereas Pandora did a lot of the legwork for you, Muxtape put musical exploration directly into the hands of those on the ground. You remember mixtapes, right? No? How about just "mixes" that powered you through long drives and maybe into a few lovers' beds? The chance of discovery of not just new intimacy but new tastes was the mission statement for Muxtape, and it was rather ingenious, rather simple: streaming mixes. Throw a bunch of songs into the easy user interface, click a few buttons (I'm going off of memory here), copy/paste the link, and BAM! New music for the masses. And it's streaming so except for the savvy out there this was all about the discovery and not the ownership. Guess that gig's up, too.

Pandora and Muxtape may not be completely out to pasture yet, and let's hope they don't get forced into the glue factory. I can't help but wonder what the industry might find out about itself if it spent half the time getting a long-overdue facelift instead of going after good ideas that illustrate the potential at the music/internet nexus. Until then, though, PopMatters is right:
The end result is another example of the industry and labels stupidly killing themselves off. But don’t worry, they’ll be sure to scapegoat everyone except themselves. And ultimately it won’t matter because they’ll be shrinking and bleeding more each day. Good sound business policy it ain’t.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Movies about records that will never get old.

This past year saw a definite 180 in my opinion of Todd Haynes. "I'm Not There" had me seeing red at first; whence comes these transgressions about iconography of icons? But that didn't last long. It starts to make sense when you see the machinery turning in all his features. "Far From Heaven," "I'm Not There," "Velvet Goldmine:" they all take a pastiche of a monumental time or thing, throw it into a blender, and pour out the essence of it all.

It's on mind after seeing "Velvet Goldmine" at McCarren Pool tonight. Part Citizen Kane, part glam, the time gets spent picking apart the different threads in Ewan McGregor's and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers's characters. It's not just the individuals - Bowie, Eno, Iggy Pop - all screwed up with each other, but the different times and places. The mythologies are boiled down, distilled, and poured out over the perfect superficies.

An experiential note: there was probably no better venue than McCarren Pool at dusk to watch "Velvet Goldmine." It's the kind of communal experience that brings out something fresh from sometimes familiar material and venues. The rumor mill has it that the Pool will once again become a pool after this summer, which is a real shame. There aren't many such places as characters like it.

Starting the collection isn't the problem, it's finishing it.

What I found today at Academy Records:
Add that to what I found at Eat Records the other day:
Granted, that's the easy part. Filling in the blanks of the truly hard finds should provide more than enough sport.

Also, in case you were ever wondering why you should never spend real money on real pop records:
Found on the street on the way back from Park Slope. There were a bunch of others, including Thriller, but it was too scratched for my taste. Always wait for a relative or a relative unknown to liquidate before dropping anything above the dollar mark on something like this.

And why is Sascha Frere-Jones dropping his collection? I'll refrain from libelous conjecture.

I still want a sticker that turns my ride into a national security threat.

So I mean, really, what's better on a Friday night than a bunch of earnest beard punk? Is that a proper term for this? Planet Plan-It-X, maybe. What is for sure is that a summer evening can certainly bring out the party and the olfactory in an otherwise dull side of town.

It was the first time I had been to The Fort, and it took a second to reacquaint myself to the familiar-but-different trappings of the punk house. Photographs and even descriptors don't really do much justice to the subtle and glaring differences between various abodes, but then again, who's really looking that close if you're on the outside? In any case, this particular spot definitely belonged to the Bloomington school; decor and odor both differed wildly from the noisy artists' residences in Providence and the crusty 80's revivalist basements in Boston to which I'm much more accustomed, despite the abundant eclecticism shared by all.

Half the show takes place on the stoop. There's an element that is always outside to serve as signpost, town crier, and skeptic for newcomers. Sometimes even as guard or look-out. I tend to go to shows alone and the approach can sometimes be a bit harrowing; these are all strangers, and since punk houses to tend to support a small army, they're all strangers that collectively don't know you. I ended up missing most of artists-in-residence opener Stupid Party, but having previewed the material, I was alright with missing the enthusiastic if generic set. The Gainesville-Bloomington axis on which the sound is firmly located isn't too hard to find, and that's why This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb was here.

Brief aside: Even beyond decorative and odorific differences was the anarchical crowd behavior. In Boston, where four-on-the-floor punk and hardcore is having a heyday of massive proportions, etiquette is a little more puritan. This is a given for dress (patches, Boston sports, and second skin denim to boot) but also for dancing. Channel that energy into the circle pit and get the two-step going. Here it was just mayhem: D.I.Y. hair cuts, uniquely mangled wardrobes, and alcoholic containers of every shape and form pogoed, thrashed, and generally bounced without any uniting theory except chaos. Even standing on the wall was no good; delineation between crowd and observer wasn't just protean, it was non-existant.

Northern Liberties followed and I can honestly say I wasn't really expecting what ended up happening. The set-up was typical: basic drum kit, overly stickered bass, and marching band drums to be manned by the dress-clad, Stardusted lead singer.

What followed was an extended space jam complete with snake charm bass riffs and a whole lot of vocal reverb mixed the occasional drum solo freakout. I don't know if anyone else saw it coming, but it didn't take long for the crowd to adapt, the battleground being defined by the grey area where exuberance and violence meet. Also, where the unacquainted and unabashed set the stage for night-long faux pas.

Case in point: leather sandals, heat trap jeans, and a sweater shirt disposed of once bad dancer guy decided this weird shit was too much for him not to be a part of. As if the rest of the kids losing their minds wasn't enough, we've got a human pinball causing much consternation by both excessive ground movement and excessive sweating. At least the ultra-aggro drunk kid knocking back the Yuengling in the white Partisans tee was misantrhopic enough to say fuck the world and stay out of the pit after being excised by consensus.

A compatriot on the wall demonstrates the only way to combat the ultimate trump card, a sweaty and naked back.

Here's a punk Statue of Liberty play. In case you couldn't tell, it's time for This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb. I'm waiting for the new album to come out on vinyl, but early listening shows it's more of the same, and in this case status quo is A-OK.

More anthems, more politics, more folk creeping into those oddly melodic bellows. That's what everyone was here for, and that's what everyone got...mostly. The old standards still set everyone in motion (how can you NOT be moving for Star Song), but there's something lacking nowadays in the live-set. The last time I saw them was at Plan-It-X Fest about three years ago with a radically butchered line-up, and I don't know if the supergroup I saw then was just infallible or they're losing it or maybe The Fort just couldn't provide the support necessary, but the band definitely sounded a little milquetoast. Too much liquid courage or maybe not enough, but I wasn't nearly as stoked as I thought I'd be.

Closing up was Shellshag, but by that point in the night I was exhausted and had to ride on home. My bad, at least I think. Checked 'em out later and ran across the record in Academy today, and I don't think I'm done with them. Apparently a two-piece, it seems they specialize in anthems: piano-driven, sludge-powered, even epic riffage, there's more than a few engines going on this thing. Hit or miss, but the LP on Starcleaner (which is also responsible for the Stupid Party 7") looks like it'll be worth it when I'm not so far in the red.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I mean, how dark can the city actually ever get?

Apparently arm-chair anthropologists are creeping further into the darker corners of the scene nowadays. Who would've thought the July 25th Aerosols show would've ended up on Ivygate? Juli says she knows her Orientalist theory, but knowing doesn't prevent making the same trespasses Said should prepare you against. That's what he said.

I'll give her one thing, though: the Stolen Sleeves Collective is one hell of a place to unearth, especially if taking the L is still a novelty. It's rare that a "warehouse" is still a warehouse, or in a neighborhood that mingles the ghost of industry with the still-kicking body. There's a nasty emptiness to it; I spend a good fifteen to twenty minutes figuring out the appropriate bike-lock location before I realize that no matter where I park it I'm not going to be satisfied. The whole vibe is rather fitting for the experience and the racket generated by the resident bands, which are routinely at the front of the doom and gloom game. Lapsed recovering alcoholic skronkers Aerosols are probably the best poster children available, though Cult Ritual blew me away at their August 7th show at SS. The new 7" is en route now from Youth Attack!; no surprise on label choice there, seeing as how YA! is dominating this particular punk niche. Mr. McCoy was even present to see what carnage his children hath wrought.

Still, not even McCoy could've orchestrated the broader atmospherics for that evening. Riding down Flushing Ave., buildings moving out of the way with each block, towering clouds put on the most ominous heat lightning display I ever did see. Nature definitely did its best to fit the mood unto the breach. The stale night kept up the light show even after the show. I peeked backwards occasionally on the way back just to make sure it, or something, wasn't gaining on me. Perhaps the black concern about the approaching endgame isn't so far off.